Tim Keller on Proverbs

Chris —  May 3, 2010 — 2 Comments

I often encourage people in our church that reading Proverbs should be part of the rest of their life.  Whatever day of the month it is, read that day’s chapter of Proverbs.  Today is May 3.  Read Proverbs 3.

A recent post by Tim Keller offers some great insights that will make your time in Proverbs more profitable:

Some years ago I preached through the book of Proverbs, and I learned two things I hadn’t known about it. First, the Proverbs only give up their meaning cumulatively. No one proverb gives you the whole picture. If one proverb says, "the morally good always have a good life" and a later proverb says, "sometimes the morally good suffer" we think it’s a contradiction. That’s because we think of each proverb as an individual stand-alone promise. But they are not. All the proverbs on a given subject are meant to be taken together, each one modifying the others like the parallel clauses do. One gives you information about a topic; then subsequent ones come along and answer questions raised by the first one, or they condition and nuance a more blanket statement made earlier.

Chapters 10-15 tell us that the hard-working have enough to eat and the lazy will be poor. But starting in chapter 16, the exceptions to the customary-way-life-works come along. There is an order God has put into things that we must abide by, but, on the other hand, we can’t see it all and so must expect exceptions. An example of how the Proverbs only give up their meaning cumulatively is the famous Prov 16:25 — There is a way that seems right to a man, but that way leads only unto death. I’ve never heard this invoked except when the speaker wants to say to the listeners "don’t trust your feelings." But earlier Proverbs repeatedly said — "The way to destruction appears right to the fool." That is, fools are terrible at making plans because they reject the way of wisdom (not getting counselors, not being humble, not watching your words or controlling your emotions, etc). But 16:25 comes along and says — "But the way of destruction can appear right not just to a fool, but sometimes to anyone (to ‘a man’.) Even if you follow the way of wisdom to the "T" and make your plans as well as can be — sometimes your life can still blow up! This is a broken world. The wise know that sometimes all paths may run ill.

Read the rest here.

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2 responses to Tim Keller on Proverbs

  1. Proverbs was where I turned last week, when I answered anger with anger. It wasn’t what I said, but that it was in anger that I said it…so I was the one with a “hasty” temper exhalting folly. After reading Proverbs most of the day and much of the next, I appologized to my mother. She said no, I owe you one. We agreed that we both knew this was not how God wanted us to act. I know we were prayed for as I read 17:22 “A joyful heart is good medicine, but a crushed spirit dries up the bones.” My weekend was joyful!!

  2. I think he’s not right about 16:25. “Death” and “destruction” mean a lot more to Solomon than “things not going well.”

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